Today is Children’s Mental Health Day, an important time to shed light on a critical problem facing youth in the United States. According to the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBSS), nearly one third of high school aged students (29.9%) expressed feeling so sad and/or hopeless for 14 consecutive days in the past year, that they stopped partaking in their usual activities. More than 23% seriously considered taking their own life. Educating the public about the warning signs and symptoms of common mood and anxiety disorders and suicide in youth can empower individuals to take what could be life-changing action. Below we have outlined three ways you can take action to help your own children, as well as the youth in your community.
1. Learn the signs and symptoms: As parents, it can be difficult to identify typical childhood behavior from a mental health concern. As a result, many children don’t receive the professional help they need. Children can develop the same mental health conditions that adults can, but they may show themselves in different ways. If you notice that your child is experiencing any of the following signs or symptoms, you should consider talking to their doctor or a mental health professional:
- a constant state of worry
- preoccupation with food or weight
- consistent feelings of sadness for two or more weeks
- social withdrawal
- drastic changes in behavior
- difficulty concentrating
- sudden loss of appetite
- an increase in headaches or stomachaches
- substance use
- self harm
2. Advocate for mental health education and training in your school system:
Teachers and school staff can spend as many as 50 hours with your child a week, making school a natural and effective place to deliver suicide prevention programming. Schools can create a safe environment to teach students the signs and symptoms of depression and suicidal thinking, while also training faculty and staff to respond to concerns when they arise. Community advocacy for these critical programs can show schools that there is parent support.
3. Take a Screening on Behalf of Your Adolescent: Completing a Brief Screen for Adolescent Depression is a quick and easy way to make an educated decision about whether your adolescent’s recent behaviors are consistent with signs and symptoms of depression or suicide. The screening is completely anonymous and is free to complete by visiting www.HelpYourselfHelpOthers.org.
Youth mental health impacts families, as well as entire communities. Taking a proactive approach by educating key stakeholders, like teachers, administrative staff, and parents, can increase the likelihood that youth in need with get help sooner.